The National: Rocking Out at Calvin

Last night, the ending of the Festival of Faith & Writing coincided with a concert by The National at the Van Noord Arena.

I was surprised. When I attended Calvin there was no dancing allowed on campus. During the late 1970s students gathered in darkened dorm basements at covert “parties with music” to bounce rhythmically and hope no dean showed up to bust us.

Last night I saw an honest-to-goodness rock band, complete with bouncers, in a building next door to my old dorm (Yes, Noordewier). The experience was fun, if a little disorienting. (Is rock music no longer considered a sin?)

was not acquainted with The National except for having watched clips of their appearance on SNL recently. The band lists U2 as a formative influence — a fact I didn’t need to read in print, as I could hear it in their music. They were “indie with a melancholic bent.” What they did better than U2 (and isn’t that a statement?) was to add brass — trumpet and trombone. One thing that stood out for me was the last half of “About Today,” which was like being in a thunderstorm.

The band members really fed off the energy of the crowd. At one point the frontman, Matt Berninger, came to the edge of the stage and bowed his head while he sang. People in the audience patted his hair, like the laying on of hands. But he kept singing, full volume. During the encore he bodysurfed the crowd (or tried to, this was Calvin, after all) and then zigzagged through the masses, to the delight of all.

The last number was soulful and acoustic — the crowd sang along. I wished I knew the words! I will enjoy looking up all the lyrics.

The warmup band was My Brightest Diamond which was also great. The singer’s voice and manner reminded me of “Florence and the Machine” (which incidentally was U2’s warmup band the last time I heard them).

Here’s the setlist (April 12, 2014, Van Noord Arena):

Sea of Love
I Should Live in Salt
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Hard to Find
Afraid of Everyone
Conversation 16
Squalor Victoria
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Slow Show
Pink Rabbits
About Today
Fake Empire


Mr. November
Terrible Love
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (acoustic)


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